Water restrictions rely on “1.7 million enforcers”

Dams are at a low ebb after 77 days without rain.

Something that people with rainwater tanks have known for months – that Auckland is in a drought – is now a crisis.

Mandatory restrictions on water use were introduced last weekend for those on the city water supply.
Auckland Council voted to put the restrictions in place at a meeting of its Emergency Committee on May 7.

While acknowledging that the fine weather made lockdown more bearable, Watercare’s head of servicing and consents Mark Bourne told the Mayor and Councillors that the drought is shaping up to be the worst in Auckland’s living memory.

“It will take a significant wet winter to replenish dam storage levels to normal,” he said.

At the same committee’s April 23 meeting, Watercare chief executive Raveen Jaduram said Aucklanders were making voluntary water savings even during lockdown, and the volume of water used was also less because most businesses were closed. However, he said restrictions would have been brought in during lockdown but were not, as they could not be enforced due to physical distancing requirements.

When Council voted unanimously to bring in Stage 1 mandatory restrictions, starting on May 16, the issue of enforcement was raised again. Mr Bourne said the focus will be on education, but people flouting the rules who have been warned will be penalised. He said Aucklanders will help with policing, with “neighbours watching neighbours” and reporting those who flout the rules – something Mayor Phil Goff described as “1.7 million unpaid enforcers”.

The restrictions cover outdoor water use because it can be observed and if necessary, enforced. They ban the use of hoses and water-blasters domestically. Restrictions for commercial and non-residential water use include banning hoses or water blasters unless it is for a health, safety, emergency or biosecurity reason; banning commercial car washes unless they use recycled water; and restricting the watering of sports fields, plants or paddocks to those which have an irrigation system fitted with soil moisture or rain sensors.

A number of councillors raised the need for Watercare to future proof the water supply – particularly as climate change could mean more future droughts and Cr Wayne Walker asked Council to encourage the use of domestic water tanks to aid water conservation.

Cr John Watson was concerned about the impact of the restrictions on small businesses already struggling after lockdown and in response the Mayor said if you allow commercial water blasting, but not domestic, that would not be fair. “We want to find the savings now to prevent more draconian measures later on,” he said.

Stage 2 restrictions will come in if water storage declines to a level in Watercare’s Metropolitan Drought Management Plan. They will include all Stage 1 restrictions as well as banning all watering of sports fields.

There are no restrictions on water for drinking or sanitary use in the household, or operations that use water for health, safety, emergency and biosecurity measures.

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